Creating a follow-up album for a critically acclaimed one is a daunting task. You must first look at the previous record, and nit-pick for months over what might've been better, or what else might've worked. It's in these times that we find out who the truly dedicated and influential artists are.
There are some that take the easiest approach, that which being the 'sequel'. These albums change nothing from their former work, and can sometimes offer nothing more than the same album, but repackaged and updated. This approach usually appeals to all fans, but can leave a mind confused as to whether or not they just listened to the same album twice. Then, there is the risky approach. The path of 'evolution', if you will. And by 'evolution', I refer to the sound. This is almost a hit or miss usually, and can also divide a fan base right down the middle. Such is the case for Slayer's 'South of Heaven
Knowing that they couldn't out-do the speed of 'Reign in Blood
', which is widely considered to be the pinnacle of speed metal, the members of Slayer went back to the drawing board. In replace of the blazing tempos that were found on 'Hell Awaits
' and 'Reign in Blood
' are slower, sinister riffs. Take for instance the spine-chilling single-guitar intro to 'South of Heaven
'. It sets the tone for this entire, unholy album within the first few seconds. It starts off slow, before it starts to pack a punch, then slows down again, then comes right back into the heaviness with some fluctuation in tempo, before it finally calms itself down again, much like some of the tracks found here. Right after 'South of Heaven
', 'Silent Scream
' comes pounding in with classic Slayer-style riffs, with quick notes played in between grinded palm-mutes. Then the ghastly 'Live Undead
' kicks off with a slow-but-heavy palm muted riff that turns into another classic Slayer riff as I described earlier, but more evil. 'Behind the Crooked Cross
' carries on the old-school Slayer riff and tempo found on the previous track, until 'Mandatory Suicide
' comes on. The pounding of the drums, bass, and guitar every few seconds with some high-notes played in between is reminiscent to Metallica's 'For Whom the Bell Tolls
', except slower. 'Mandatory Suicide
' has a 'death' feel to it, with chugging guitars and a thumping bassline to go with it. 'Ghosts of War
' is easily the heaviest song on this entire album, and reaches the tempos found off of 'Reign in Blood
'. This song was intended to be a continuation of 'Chemical Warfare
', and after a few listens the connection is seen in the riffs, which focus very heavily on thick palm mutes. This tempo slows down little by little after 'Ghosts of War
with the thrashing 'Read Between the Lies
' and then picks up again with the brutal 'Cleanse the Soul
'. 'Dissident Aggressor
' is a Judas Priest cover, but Slayer kicks it up a notch with creepier, thrashier riffs. Finally, 'Spill the Blood
' is the biggest departure than any song on this album. This is simply because it's almost a ballad of sorts. It opens with a (brace yourselves!) acoustic guitar. The way it's played gives it a disturbing atmosphere, as it sounds like the something that might be played as if you were to slowly die. Just like 'South of Heaven
', it picks up the intensity after the intro with a good deal of heavy palm mutes and chugging riffs. 'Spill the Blood
' is easily the most disturbing, sinful-sounding song on this album.
Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman take their level up to the next level on this album. All of the riffs feel unique, and non-repetitive, with the repetitive part being a huge complaint for most listeners for their previous work. Their ability to expand on their abilities and grow speaks highly of them in all ways. On 'Spill the Blood
', Hanneman fires of a solo that actually carries with the mood of a song, a first for Slayer. However, old habits do tend to carry over. Their solos are still, as they have admitted, like a mash of notes. But for the most part, these 'mash of notes' never seem to get dull, or annoying. From the use of the 'dive-bomb' whammy-bar solos found on 'South of Heaven
', to the all out-shred-fest solos on tracks such as 'Live Undead
', 'Ghosts of War
', and 'Read Between the Lies
', and finally finishing with the slightly-melodic solo on 'Spill the Blood
', each solo is an enjoyment, rather than a letdown.
Also changed on this album is Tom's voice. It's no longer as gruff and deep as it once seemed. It seems almost as if it was smoothed out, but this does not take away from his malicious tone. The closest he sounds to his past vocals are found on the faster tracks such as 'Silent Scream
' and 'Ghosts of War
', but for the rest of the album you're treated to more a likeable Tom. His vocals on 'Live Undead
' and 'Spill the Blood
' sound like how a murderer might talk to their victim softly as they die by their hands. They're downright sinister no matter how you look at it. His best performance, however, is on 'South of Heaven
', as he uses his new vocals in such places as the first verse, before he changes later on to a more gruff sound.
The hate and spite that flood the lyrical world of Slayer is still ever-present, and its been kicked up a notch or two. While previous lyrics might've all sounded the same after awhile, these new ones feel very fresh. 'The root of all evil is the heart of a black soul, A force that has lived all eternity. A never ending search for a truth never told, The loss of all hope and your dignity.', come off the title track, and show a new depth of lyrical writing. But for all the fans of their gruesome, grotesque lyrics, have no fear. You can still find them on here, such as on 'Cleanse the Soul
' with lines such as 'Body that rests before me, With every dying breath, Spellbound and gagged, I commence your flesh to dirt.' Not evil enough for you' Alright, try 'Silent Scream, Bury the unwanted child. Beaten and torn. Sacrifice the unborn.', off of 'Silent Scream
'. Their distrust in God and religion has not been lost either. 'Read Between the Lies
' states: 'Evangelist you claim God speaks through you, Your restless mouth full of lies gains popularity.'. Much of the lyrical content, however, is now derived from war, which is the topic on 'Behind the Crooked Cross
', 'Mandatory Suicide
', and 'Ghosts of War
While his vocals and lyrics have changed slightly, his bass playing has not. You can't hold it against the guy, as he is also doing vocals while he is trying to play. However, the bass is more audible this time around as it has previously been, especially on 'Live Undead
' and more so on 'Mandatory Suicide
', where during the intro you can distinctly hear him thumping away notes.
Dave Lombardo, like the rest of the musicians on this album, has also stepped his playing level up slightly. His drumbeats, for the most part, are still very similar to his previous work. However, his ability to keep it even tighter is noticed on tracks such as 'Mandatory Suicide
' and 'Read Between the Lies
'. Also, his fills are all very unique. Take for the instance on 'Silent Scream
', where he could put fills in about 5 seconds, but chooses not to keep the song moving along. Instead, he waits, and when he does throw in some variation, it's enough to knock you back a step or two.
One major, un-noticed element that this album has for it, is the element of 'flow'. Each song effortlessly moves into the next with precision. Even if you were to have the opening riff to 'South of Heaven
' play over the drops of 'blood' on 'Raining Blood
', the two seem to complement each other. That's the way this entire album works. Whether its 'Silent Scream
' coming straight off the calmness of 'South of Heaven
' with a pounding intro, or 'Read Between the Lies
' carrying on 'Ghosts of War
' all thrash-fest, they all seem to work together very well.
As I said before, it's hard to match a critically acclaimed album, especially one that's said to be the pinnacle of that genre. Well, I believe Slayer did that, and then some. So it might take the average Slayer listener to get used to if they are just coming off of 'Reign in Blood
', but once they get past the fact that the tempo has been toned down a notch, they are in for what I believe to be the peak of Slayer's career.
+ More diverse
+ Great musicianship on all levels
+ More sinister
+ More audible bass
+ Tom's voice and lyrics
- Bass could do a tad bit more sometimes
- Takes a little time to accept if all you own is before this.
South of Heaven
Ghosts of War
Read Between the Lies
Spill the Blood